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'He's going to kill somebody'

A van driven by a Spring Hill man swerves across U.S. 19 as other motorists dial 911. The ensuing crash leaves one man dead.

[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Rescue workers help Wilbur Draheim of Spring Hill out of the driver's seat of a minivan involved in an accident Tuesday on U.S. 19. Witnesses said the minivan swerved across U.S. 19 and glanced off two vehicles before slamming into a truck, killing the driver.

By TAMARA LUSH

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 17, 2001


BAYONET POINT -- As a man in a blue minivan swerved back and forth across three southbound lanes on U.S. 19 Tuesday afternoon, a frantic Marcia Stahl dialed 911 on her cell phone.

"You guys gotta help. He's going to kill somebody," said Stahl, who was just south of the Pasco-Hernando line.

Stahl and another motorist followed the minivan with their vehicles' emergency flashers on in an attempt to slow other drivers down.

They also flashed their headlights in hopes that the driver of the minivan would pull over.

But he didn't.

About 12:20 p.m., the minivan approached the intersection of U.S. 19 and State Road 52 going about 50 mph. It didn't slow down, even though there were vehicles stopped in the southbound lane at a red light.

The minivan, driven by 80-year-old Wilbur Draheim, glanced off the left bumper of a white Ford, then nicked the right side of a tan Chevrolet van.

Draheim's van then slammed into the back of a red Mazda truck driven by 63-year-old John T. Swisher, who wasn't wearing a seat belt, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

The impact caused Swisher to slump forward, foot on the accelerator. His truck drove 200 yards south on U.S. 19 and crashed head-on into a pawnshop sign. A witness said the truck's wheels were spinning even after the truck came to rest.

"Somebody's got to be really seriously hurt," said a man who called 911 from the Collector's Bin Pawn Shop at 11909 U.S. 19. "The gas is leaking and they need help fast."

Swisher of 7310 Quiet Lane in Port Richey died at the scene. He was a retired police officer from Illinois.

Draheim of 3291 Harrow Road in Spring Hill was taken to Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point for treatment.

FHP Trooper Jeff Kidder said rescue workers told him that Draheim was suffering from extremely low blood sugar and was disoriented.

The drivers of the first two vehicles hit by Draheim were unhurt. An hour after the crash, they stood on the side of U.S. 19 with a tearful Stahl, watching FHP troopers inspect the wrecked minivan.

"I couldn't get a damn cop here to stop him," Stahl said.

She and three other motorists called about Draheim's erratic driving, 911 tapes indicate. But there were no officers in the immediate area to respond.

Pasco County sheriff's spokesman Jon Powers placed one deputy at least 3 miles north of U.S. 19 and New York Avenue -- the location of the first call -- and that deputy was involved at another scene.

The other closest deputies were even farther away, in Port Richey. One was at Little Road and Jasmine Boulevard, and the other was at Ridge Road and Regency Park Boulevard.

One of those deputies was responding to the cell phone reports, and was about a mile away when the crash happened.

Tom Shoulla, 81, of Port Richey was driving the white Ford, and Bill Seabrook, a 54-year-old electrician, was headed to a job in the tan Chevrolet.

"I guess the glancing blow saved us; neither one of us got it direct," said Seabrook, who then pointed to the red Mazda. "The only one that got it directly is right down there."

"And he's gone," Shoulla said.

* * *

- Tamara Lush is the police reporter in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6245. Her e-mail address is lush@sptimes.com.

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